“We interviewed educators and employers about workforce development strategies, and it became clear that recruitment and retention are complex challenges in every industry across the board,” says Houck. “I knew from experience as an entrepreneur that second-chance candidates often make the most reliable and productive employees, so I started building a bridge between the two worlds.”
Learning-To-Lead establishes partnerships with employers in Western North Carolina willing to provide the program’s participants with second-chance opportunities. Through their Recovery-Based Vocational Training, participants gain entry-level positions in machine operation, quality inspection, and product packaging, aiming to pave the way for stable, fulfilling employment and personal growth.
Check out our full interview with Houck below.
Tell us about your business and the role you play in it.
Learning-To-Lead LLC was founded in 2023, but the operating model originated with my previous company, AMP-Connect — which was acquired in 2021. The work we do is relatively simple, though certainly not easy. Learning-To-Lead LLC is designed to serve the long-term residential recovery program offered by FIRST at Blue Ridge in Black Mountain. Their organization is a state-licensed nonprofit that supports people who are striving to overcome substance use disorder, justice involvement, and socioeconomic barriers by providing campus housing, daily essentials, group transportation, clinical care, case management, and educational resources. There is also a career development component, and that is where Learning-To-Lead LLC comes in. We partner with Western North Carolina employers that welcome second-chance candidates and coordinate entry-level placements for FIRST at Blue Ridge clients. Examples include machine operation, quality inspection, component assembly, product packaging, and environmental services. This is what we call RecoveryBased Vocational Training, and it is meant to lead to full-time employment with advancement potential.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business? How did you decide on a name?
The basic idea came from a segment I produced and co-hosted on WTZQ 95.3 FM from 2016 to 2017. We interviewed educators and employers about workforce development strategies, and it became clear that recruitment and retention are complex challenges in every industry across the board. I knew from experience as an entrepreneur that second-chance candidates often make the most reliable and productive employees, so I started building a bridge between the two worlds. That was AMP-Connect. Learning-To-Lead LLC is an enhanced version of the original model because our culture is centered on helping FIRST at Blue Ridge clients set practical goals and make informed decisions throughout the vocational training process — from start to finish. This approach sharpens critical thinking and communication skills and emphasizes teamwork and accountability. That is why we call it “Learning To Lead.”
What makes your business unique in its field?
We are the primary source of Recovery-Based Vocational Training opportunities for FIRST at Blue Ridge clients. So we pay close attention to the social and physical environments we coordinate for our candidates. Employers that respect diversity, prioritize health and safety, invest in innovation, and give back to the community are, by and large, excellent partners. Likewise, we make ourselves available seven days a week to answer questions, meet pressing needs, and resolve challenges. In that sense, we are decidedly in a category of our own.
Why did you decide to join the Chamber?
We are building an adaptable operation. In much the same way that FIRST at Blue Ridge provides a comprehensive lineup of resources for people in recovery, Learning-To-Lead LLC is committed to accommodating the evolving needs of Western North Carolina employers. And this is best accomplished through collaboration with forward-thinking community partners. My goal is to continue to diversify our network. Just as the Goodwill Career Center on Patton Avenue helps prepare our candidates for interviews, the Asheville Chamber can introduce us to new employers that are eager to meet with them. Ultimately, everyone will benefit — and that is the definition of conscientious growth.
What is your favorite part about doing business in the Asheville area?
Recovery started for me when I returned to Western North Carolina in 2011, so Asheville represents independence and optimism. And you can feel the constructive energy in all the emerging entrepreneurial ventures, which inspires even more innovation — creative development, and continuous improvement. Plus, the mountains are a lot of fun!
What else would you like to share about your business?
If employers want to learn more about our mission or schedule an introductory conversation about entry-level placements, you can visit our website at LTLVT.com. I can also be reached at (828) 808-1020. And I always welcome the opportunity to partner with trailblazing companies that believe in second chances for people in recovery.